Do landlords have to accept emotional support animals? When answering this question, it can be easy to assume that your tenant is just looking to get around any pet policy limitations you might have by asking for their ’emotional support animal’ to be allowed onto the premises. However, some people do rely on their pets for emotional stability.
Such people suffer from serious mental conditions, be it depression or different types of disorders. They use their emotional support animals to ground themselves in reality as well as to stay calm. This works because they find the presence of a familiar and beloved pet reassuring.
What does this mean for you as a landlord, however? And do landlords have to accept emotional support animals no matter what?
What an emotional support animal really is
An ’emotional support animal’ is typically considered a companion animal that is meant to provide therapeutic companionship, support, and reassurance to its owner. Most often, emotional support animals are dogs. But really, it can be whichever animal species a person feels most comfortable with.
Service animals vs. emotional support animals
Note that there is a very big difference between a ‘service animal’ and an ’emotional support animal.’
Service animals are rigorously trained to provide their owners with the best possible help. They help blind people travel. They can alert others to medical emergencies. Some can even fetch items for their owners and perform simple tasks around the house.
Service animals always accompany people with disabilities and cannot be obtained by someone who doesn’t truly need one. As such, both The Americans with Disabilities Act and The Fair Housing Act protect their owner’s rights, and it is absolutely illegal to turn away a tenant just because of their disability or service animal.
The question of whether landlords have to accept emotional support animals in their pet policy is a bit more complex, but let us preface the rest of the explanation by saying – in most cases, yes. You see, while such animal companions can be assigned to persons with disabilities, they are just as often paired with people who suffer emotional trauma or other similar problems. Their only job is to provide support and, as such, do not require training.
This means that they can be just as destructive as pets, even though they are not classified as pets at all according to law. When allowing emotional support animals (or pets) you will likely want to be extra thorough with your landlord inspection checklist for rentals. Also relevant is that only The Fair Housing Act applies to emotional support animals.
Trust but verify
We’ve mentioned at the start that landlords tend to think people lie about needing an emotional support animal. Well, thankfully, you do not need to endure your suspicions silently. A therapist needs to approve an animal to gain the status of an emotional support animal.
This means that your potential tenant should have some sort of a note from their psychiatrist, therapist, or similar if their pet actually is an emotional support animal.
For tenants, wanting to move in with pets through the process to make it stress-free is understandable, but you should still respect no pet policies in rentals!
Some warnings for potential missteps
When asking yourself whether landlords have to accept emotional support animals, it is important not to overreact. Do not accuse your potential tenant of trying to deceive. Nor should you attempt to contact the medical professionals in charge of their treatment. This is illegal, and you can get into trouble for trying to do it!
Just as you want to look for the optimal solution for managing your properties, you need to approach the problem in the best way possible. Acknowledge the renter’s concerns, but ask for proof to support their claims. Do not be argumentative. And do not give them any reason to find you in breach of The Fair Housing Act.
What this means for a landlord
As long as a tenant has proof that they are disabled or require an emotional support animal to protect their mental health, you have to accept their pets. This does have some repercussions, however. Most significantly, your insurance might suffer for it.
Because such pets do not need to follow the standard guidelines, as they are not officially recognized as pets at all, they may be one of the restricted breeds or be above the weight limits set by your property’s liability insurance.
In the best-case scenario, you would have to pay more for your insurance. However, n the worst case, you may lose it entirely. Of course, you can take the case to court. And there is a precedent of such cases ending in the victory of landlords. Still, it is an expensive legal battle you may feel disinclined to go through.
The final thing to discuss is whether landlords have to accept animals for emotional support allowances to provide you with a way to turn down troublesome tenants after all. Here is the list of such allowances:
- The animal is too disruptive to other tenants
- The animal is too large for the property
- The animal poses a real potential danger to other tenants
- The animal’s presence on the property results in significant financial losses for the landlord
- The animal attacks someone or significantly damages the property
In other words, if you must accept someone with an emotional support animal, lean into the benefits of a month-to-month lease and see how it goes. You have no reason to push them out if they are a model tenant. If problems pop up, you can then legally evict them.
I just ran into this issue for the first time in over 20 years as a Landlord. Good general article about the subject. It would be nice to see something a little more in-depth such as 1) Can you still require a pet deposit for an ESA even though you are providing the Accommodation to allow the pet? 2) Can a tenant just bring in an ESA without discussing it with the Landlord and then claim ESA status with a pending letter from a doctor? 3) Other issues Landlords have faced with this situation and how they handled it?
Hi Fred! We recommended speaking with lawyer well-versed in the HUD’s Fair Housing Laws/ESA accommodations! This will provide you the best answer for your local & state laws as well.
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